THE SEARCH FOR AN ADEQUATE ECCLESIOLOGICAL PROVISION Andrew Burnham  

In the past twenty years, I have written some papers which, for me, were milestones in my thinking,  I am beginning to look through them and, to preserve whatever is of interest, putting some of them into this blog.  This paper was written early in 2005.   At the time, I was a Provincial Episcopal Visitor, a suffragan bishop assisting the Archbishop of Canterbury.

 

THIS PAPER has arisen out of a series of private conversations with bishops and priests and lay folk.  It makes no claim to reflect others’ views but is offered as a contribution to an important debate in the life of the Church, as the Church of England ponders how it may continue to be properly inclusive of those within its life who hold seemingly irreconcilable ecclesiological positions.  This is not a new dilemma for the Church of England: there have been noble attempts at inclusion these last ten years and, before that, there has been a whole history of holding in tension widely different theological positions.

 

Assuming for the purposes of this paper that the Church of England will wish to move to the ordination of women as bishops and will also wish to make proper provision for those – bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay people – for whom such a change is not self-evidently apostolic, the search is now on for structural solutions which are ecclesiologically robust enough to allow for continued life together as the pilgrim people of God.  The Church of England would continue to be inclusive of a variety of disparate ecclesiologies and theologies and would endeavour, if anything, to improve upon the robustness, pastoral and theological, of the arrangements of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993, whose embryonic and provisional nature have been commented upon.  Here we look at some possible structural solutions – beginning with the New Province solution but looking also at a couple of other solutions which are not entirely different from out-workings suggested in the Rochester Report but which are here further developed.  As we look at three such solutions in all, there will be some attempt to assess their relative merits and some tentative conclusions.

 

I          The New Province Solution

 

There is a solution on the table – the ‘New Province’ (hereafter NP) of Consecrated Women and, were Anglicanism as ecclesiologically robust as we should like it to be, nothing short of such a province would do to make proper provision for traditionalists.  After all, the Anglican Communion has stumbled into accepting a doctrine of provincial autonomy, at least as regards women’s ordination, which means that, though ecclesiological inconsistencies inevitably exist in the relationships between provinces, they cannot exist logically within provinces.  To that extent, what goes on within provinces that ordain women which in any way serves to inhibit women’s ministry is unsatisfactory.

 

The NP proposal has considerable merits and has been worked out skilfully by the lawyers and deserves nothing less than a full consideration.  There are some anxieties about whether an NP in practical terms would be sustainable: for one thing, there are arguably many inner urban parishes within the constituency which presently depend on the generosity of more prosperous churches of different traditions.   Some work has been done on this: a modest feasibility study of parishes which look for extended episcopal care to the Bishop of Ebbsfleet was undertaken on behalf of Forward in Faith.  The assumption was made that a diocese of Ebbsfleet might travel light and, with clergy costs held at under £25k per head (today’s prices), be self-reliant.  A more prudent view might be that a diocese of Ebbsfleet, with careful control, would be more than able to fund its own stipends and pensions but might need some help with some of the less obvious costs of ministry.

 

If a Common Fund of NP parishes (hereafter NPPs) needed a proper allocation of historical resources and some help from the existing provinces, a complicating factor financially might be that NPPs would be more numerous in some parts of the country than others.  Would a diocese such as Hereford, which has no petitioning parishes, support any of the costs?  Or, to put a similar but entirely different question, would a large diocese effectively receive a sizeable subsidy from the hiving off of a score of mainly non-self-sufficient parishes?   Some formula would need to be devised, perhaps along the lines of present mutual support, whereby wealthier dioceses support those with fewer historic assets and poorer church-going populations.   Such calculations would require generosity, imagination and patience.  One assisting factor is that it is not proposed that the NP would have several diocesan boards of finance, even if, as is likely, it were effectively a group of dioceses.   There would be a provincial board of finance and this would even out some of the disparities.

 

The question also needs to be asks how an NP would avoid becoming effectively a new denomination or a form of Continuing Anglicanism of the sort that has been seen elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.   Three checks and balances suggest themselves here.   One – and perhaps the most important – is that NPPs would in a sense be provisional.  Just as at present a parish has the opportunity and right to vote out resolutions A and B or revoke the petition for extended episcopal care, an NPP would have the opportunity and right to vote itself back into the Province of Canterbury or York.  This would be a two-way process: parishes in the historic provinces would also be entitled to vote themselves into the NP.  Such porosity would  need to be managed carefully.  In addition to present constraints there might need to be minimum periods of engagement with, say, a review possible only every seven to ten years.  That would equally commit parishes to staying within the historic provinces for stable periods as well as committing parishes entering the NP to remain there for a reasonable time.  Without such safeguards the politicking, which so easily replaces steady evangelism, catechesis and pastoral care, is stirred up.

 

A second of the checks and balances which would bind the NP into the Church of England would be the kind of relationships which theologically are best described as communion even when, sometimes, they fall short of full and unimpaired eucharistic communion.  There would remain, in the historic provinces, some bishops and many priests and parishes whose spirituality and theology was very close to that of NP bishops, priests and parishes.  For example, it is unlikely that many parishes in, say, the diocese of Blackburn, as it presently is, would opt for the NP.  There would be bonds of affection between NP parishes and people and others.  It would be hoped that many NP priests and people would continue to be welcome at deanery chapters and synods, as well as ecumenical fellowships, and there would be the duty and joy of maintaining and strengthening links of ministry and mission.

 

The third of the checks and balances is economic and material.  One imagines that, whatever the outcome of the Common Tenure debate, there would be no financial arrangements over the making available of churches and parsonages to the NP.  Where freehold is not in force, there would be pepper-corn leases as things moved from one body to another.  Similarly it would be foolish for the NP to re-invent its own version of all the statutory and other bodies that undergird the life of the historic provinces within the nation.  Chaplaincies, charities, redundant churches, schools, social responsibility: here are plenty of areas for common concern and action.  As the churches’ mutual life becomes more ecumenically intelligent, it would be perverse for an NP to go it alone on most of these matters.

 

There is also the question of the mixed economy of Anglicanism – where it is defined as churches having a relationship with the See of Canterbury.  Such a mixed economy would survive having an Archbishop of Canterbury who believes in women bishops but does not himself consecrate but it is less likely to survive having an Archbishop who leads a province that has women bishops if he himself is the principal co-consecrator.  An NP would look to the Archbishop of Canterbury as primus inter pares whilst he remained a unitive figure for an Anglicanism, some of whose provinces had a male-only episcopate, but there are the worrying possibilities, first, that the Archbishop would himself consecrate women bishops and cease to be a unitive figure and, second, that, once the Provinces of Canterbury and York had women bishops, opposition to women bishops in other parts of the Communion, other than the NP, would collapse.  Here again there would be a danger of the NP becoming a new denomination or a form of Continuing Anglicanism (though, to be clear, this danger is implicit in any of the ecclesiological solutions under investigation in this article).

 

Another question which arises from the mixed economy of Anglicanism is the extent to which an NP would be typically chromatic.  Some provinces of the Anglican Communion have been fairly monochrome and have continued to reflect the ethos of the founding missionary society, whether ‘high’ or ‘low’.  Most provinces have become more variegated and the provinces of Canterbury and York, at least as described by Fr Aidan Nichols OP in The Panther and the Hind, have at times resembled three (at least) ecclesial communities with incompatible ecclesiologies.  Whereas the viability of other provinces suggests that a fairly monochrome NP – Anglo-Catholic in hue – might flourish, there are certain contra-indications.  One is what John Shelton Reed in The Glorious Battle has described as the counter-cultural nature of Anglo-Catholicism.  He wonders “how it could be so impolitic, so indifferent to the offence it gave in so many ways to so many people whose goodwill would seem to have been desirable” (page xxiv).  He concludes that “Anglo-Catholicism…thrived on opposition” (ibid) – which remarks can be aptly brought up to date simply by changing the tense.  Another contra-indication might be that, whereas overseas provinces have flourished mono-chromatically, we have no experience of monochromatic Anglicanism in England.  A major unknown is the extent to which an NP would attract conservative evangelicals and middle-stump Anglicans.  The basis of the NP, Consecrated Women tells us, would be the Declaration of Assent and that, certainly, together with the historic doctrinal documents and formularies, would have to remain in place for the NP to achieve any stability.

 

So far it has been assumed that an NP would be a province of the Church of England.  Mutatis mutandis it would not be hard to envisage an NP serving British Anglicanism or indeed international Anglicanism.  If a case can be made for an NP being a means of integration rather than disintegration – and I would argue that the PEV system in England has been integrative rather than disintegrative – then an international NP would be preferable to a series of fissiparous Continuing Anglican bodies and certainly preferable to some of the dog-fights that have taken place in ECUSA.

 

It has not been an objective of this paper, as has been said, to attack the NP solution – which is arguably the most robust as well as the closest to what we already have in being – and that should be borne in mind as we go on to consider other possible solutions.  We shall look at two other possible solutions which make proper provision for traditionalists without summarily ending what has been described as a period of reception for the doctrinal change of ordaining women and without effectively driving from the Church those who could continue to belong in conscience only if proper provision is made.

 

 

 

II         A Historic Province Solution

 

One phrase which is often mentioned in connection with a potential solution is a ‘non-geographical diocese’.  But what is a diocese if it is not ‘normally the territorial unit of administration in the Church’?[1]  Territoriality was the secular meaning at the time of Cicero and under Diocletian there were four provinces in the ‘diocese’ of Britain.  Eventually, as we know, when ‘diocese’ had become an ecclesiastical term, instead of a ‘diocese’ of ‘provinces’, we find a ‘province’ of ‘dioceses’, though as late as the ninth century we find a bishop looking after a ‘province’ within a group of provinces known as a ‘diocese’.

 

The basic unit – whether called ‘province’ or eventually ‘diocese’ – is the local church, looked after by the bishop.  In terms of Catholic ecclesiology, the Anglican Communion is neither one ‘Church’ nor a collection of ‘churches,’ each called a ‘province.’  It is a collection of ‘local churches’ – each called a diocese – which endeavour through the mediaeval arrangement called a province to order their affairs in a common way in order to further their unity with all the other ‘local churches’ throughout time and space.

 

How geographical must the local church be?  The most recent Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law (1983) defines a diocese not by territory but by cure: a diocese is a ‘portion of the people of God entrusted for pastoral care to a bishop’ (Canon 369).  Even in England jurisdiction is not always geographical: the royal peculiars and Oxford and Cambridge colleges may be historical accidents but they involve overlapping jurisdictions; the armed services may be served in the Church of England by archdeacons but an archdeaconry, usually part of a diocese, is a unit of jurisdiction.

 

As Professor Allen Brent has pointed out,[2] there is precedent in building local churches round cultures and ethnic groups.  Such is the de facto ecclesiology found in many a city, ancient and modern, not least because of the various  diasporas of Orthodoxy, each reflecting a different national identity.  Not so very different from this, at the macro level, is the overlapping of the Church of England Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe with such oversight as is extended to Europe by ECUSA and, within Scandinavia, by the Porvoo churches.   At a micro level, we are increasingly discerning clusters of similar parishes, near to each other culturally but not always contiguous, and there has always been informal association built on common approaches and spiritualities.

 

There is now ten years’ experience of groups of parishes having in common a shared focus on the extended episcopal care of PEVs or of those who provide extended episcopal oversight on a regional basis.   Most of these parishes in the foreseeable future would not leave the fellowships they have joined:  some have petitioned for the care of the PEV as a sign of where they would turn if, as they saw it, the ecclesiology of the diocese were irreparably damaged by the consecration of women bishops but most view the ecclesiology of the diocese as already irreparably damaged.   Though many petitioning parishes have preserved close relationships with deanery and diocese, some giving expression to such closeness in public prayer, there is little sign of a road back to full diocesan participation.  Though the doctrine of reception as usually explained envisages the possibility that the Church of England will cease one day to ordain and license women priests, no one believes that outcome very likely or indeed at all manageable.  The only road, therefore, is the road forward in which it is hard to see Beverley, Ebbsfleet and Richborough as anything other than, in some sense, dioceses-in-waiting.  Time will tell whether those presently cared for by diocesan and regional provision form other local churches or become part of the three PEV sees.

 

What is distinct about the Historic Province Solution (HPS), then, is not whether the PEV sees develop into ‘local churches’ – a development which has already begun to take place and would be hard to reverse – but whether such local churches constitute (or are part of) a new provincial unit or part of an HPS.  There are two versions of the HPS.  In one version neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the Archbishop of York presides at or takes part in the consecration of women bishops.   The ordination of bishops would take place in the cathedral of the appropriate diocese and the presiding bishop would be the outgoing diocesan (in the case of the ordination of a new diocesan) or the diocesan (in the case of the ordination of a new suffragans).

Beverley would then be another ‘local church’ in the Province of York and Ebbsfleet and Richborough ‘local churches’ in the Province of Canterbury.   That would come closest to preserving things as they are.

 

In the other version, the Archbishop of Canterbury would remain a unitive figure for the Anglican Communion by remaining above the fray whilst the Archbishop of York would take part in the ordination of women bishops.  At that point such bishops in the Province of York who were unable to accept his primatial leadership – and that would include the Bishop of Beverley – would look beyond the province to Canterbury.  This arrangement, though untidy, would be not dissimilar to the arrangement with regard to the extra-provincial dioceses of the Anglican Communion – presently Bermuda, the Lusitanian Church and the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church – which have their own bishops but whose metropolitan is Canterbury.  It is clear, however, that the consequences of an Archbishop of York ordaining women to the episcopate would be grave.  A Northern diocese looking ecclesiologically South would cause intolerable damage to the Northern Province: such an arrangement might indeed be an unwelcome step towards dismantling the whole notion of a metropolitan or provincial ecclesiology.

 

Common to both NP and HPS is the question of the relationship between the new local churches – which, though inevitably geographical, would have overlapping jurisdiction (just as they presently have overlapping episcopal care) with the English dioceses – and those dioceses which have diocesans who do not themselves ordain women to the priesthood.  York and Blackburn in the Northern Province and London and Chichester in the Southern Province, together with the Diocese in Europe, are the five dioceses at the time of writing.  In a future with women bishops one could envisage that the diocese of Canterbury would be added to this list but it is unlikely that there would ever be more than half a dozen such dioceses in all.  York, Blackburn and London have evolved diocesan provision –under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 – a suffragan bishop who has responsibility for the discrete set of parishes which have petitioned for extended episcopal care.  Chichester and Europe have referred women seeking ordination to the priesthood to the metropolitan, who has made appropriate provision.  None of the bishops in the Chichester and Gibraltar in Europe jurisdictions has himself ordained women to the priesthood.

 

Part of a possible NP and HPS solution would be the introduction of a specific episcopal area – or archdeaconry – as a unit of jurisdiction in these dioceses for the specific care of parishes which wished, whilst continuing to look to the diocesan as ordinary, to be in unimpaired communion with NP/HPS local churches.   Meanwhile regional arrangements – such as the Bishop of Fulham’s care for parishes in Rochester and Southwark – may well be phased out: there is no reason why such parishes could not be looked after by the new local churches, in this case Richborough.  Equally to be phased out would be resolutions A and B of the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure.  With either NP or HPS in place there would be adequate provision for those who conscientiously were unable to recognise the ordination of women as a legitimate development in the way it has taken place.

 

III       A Society Solution

 

A further solution – not unlike the ‘religious order’ suggestion in the Rochester Report – might be called ‘a society solution’ (hereafter SS).  Such a solution would be built upon what has evolved more fully in the Roman Catholic Church but what is not unknown in the Church of England.  In the Roman Catholic Church there are bishops, priests and parishes which are run by religious orders and there is the personal prelature model, exemplified ecclesiologically – and, for some, infamously – by the Opus Dei movement.  To embrace one or two of the ecclesiological precedents would not be to embrace particular theological positions on other issues – whether the charism of clerical celibacy or the rigour of religious routines.   Moreover some of what the Church of England has invented – e.g. royal peculiars, the visitor system in various Oxford and Cambridge colleges – again provides ample precedent.

 

SS would be very flexible.  Parishes would be able to opt in – more or less as they have opted in under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod 1993 – and, with the consent of PCCs, diocesan bishops would be able to ask parishes who have not so opted in, to adopt SS for the short or medium term.  In the former case, parishes would be seeking to preserve a particular tradition.  In the latter case, diocesan bishops would be seeking to make the most suitable arrangements, whether for the short or medium term.  SS, needing to be reviewed, say, every seven to ten years, or at the end of an incumbency, would not cater for the long term, except insofar as the long term is made up of an accumulation of short and/or medium term arrangements.  There would be stability but there would be flexibility.

 

SS, moreover, need not be specifically about gender.  One way of the Church of England and the Methodist Church walking more closely together might be for the Methodist Church to continue to be effectively a society, a religious movement or order, which though it had entered into full communion with the mainstream Church of England, indeed with interchangeability of ministers, continued to organise itself as a parallel jurisdiction of conference, districts and circuits.  Such a model would be adaptable for a variety of ecclesial bodies to effectively come together without loss of distinctive strengths and charisms and is potentially, therefore, a very useful ecumenical device.

 

For Anglo-Catholics SS may indeed crystallize round the SSC (Society of the Holy Cross), which has its own bishops, priests and deacons.   It happens to be the case that clergy of the Society are male but it is unlikely that this convention would survive the ordination of women as priests and bishops in the ancient communions.   Neither the SSC nor SS is intrinsically about gender: what would be more fundamental would be the preserving of a distinct theology and cultural expression of the Faith.  The overall view of some congregations on the subject of gender and ministry might be entirely incidental: there are many parishes in the Catholic tradition where even a majority in favour of women’s ministry would not be sufficient reason to change the tradition.  A large, diverse and harmonious congregation – with everyone able to receive the ministry of word and sacrament from its pastors – is clearly preferable to a congregation, however unanimous, greatly diminished by division.  In this particular way the Church in Wales Provincial Assistant Bishop scheme has had some strengths: the Provincial Assistant Bishop is suffragan to every diocesan and clergy have been able to resort to his ministry regardless of the balance of congregational views.

 

What could be done for Anglo-Catholics could be done, mutatis mutandis, for Reform.  A society – such as the Church Society – could be set up to which parishes formally affiliated for this purpose.  Such a society would have its bishops and pastors and, again, would have a close relationship with the Church of England mainstream, not least by running mission parishes and projects on behalf of the dioceses as well as on their own behalf.

 

One danger of SS would be the proliferation of societies.  Anything which resembled the clamour of Catholic societies or the multifariousness of private patrons would be an unwelcome kind of Balkanization rather than an attempt to create unity without uniformity.  There may need to be three societies – one also for the middle stumpers – but it would be vital that no other societies came into being, at any rate with this amount of ecclesiological flexibility unless they emerged as ecumenical projects from other mainstream denominations, making common cause with Anglicanism.

 

The ‘personal prelature’ canons of the Roman Catholic Church give some kind of guidance as to how SS might work:

 

Canon 294                   Personal prelatures may be established by the Apostolic See after consultation with the Episcopal Conferences concerned.  They are composed of deacons and priests of the secular clergy.  Their purpose is to promote an appropriate distribution of priests, or to carry out special pastoral or missionary enterprises in different regions or for different social groups.

 

Canon 295  ¶1             A personal prelature is governed by statutes laid down by the Apostolic See.  It is presided over by a Prelate as its proper Ordinary.  He has the right to establish a national or an international seminary, and to incardinate students and promote them to orders with the title of service of the prelature.

 

Canon 296                   Lay people can dedicate themselves to the apostolic work of a personal prelature by way of agreements made with the prelature.  The manner…and the principal obligations…are to be duly defined in the statutes.

 

One thing the personal prelature and the ministry of religious orders within Roman Catholic dioceses assumes is a partnership between the Ordinary of the prelature or superiors of the religious order and the Ordinary of the diocese.  By now we have some experience of such partnerships in the working of PEVs alongside diocesan bishops.  There have been ‘battle of the crozier’ moments, to be sure, but there have also been patterns of mutual trust and godly collaboration to build on.

 

The personal prelature model has obvious similarities to the kind of arrangements the Church of England has put in place for the armed services, for chaplaincies of various kinds and for peculiars.  Nor is the issue of communion further jeopardised: there would be a state of impaired communion – expressed in a variety of ways and to a variety of degrees – between the societies and the mainstream but that is much as it already is and inevitably will be, almost whatever the future.  In that the societies would have an inner ecclesiological coherence they would function much as local churches, in terms of ecclesiology, with all the responsibilities of seeking and building up with other local churches the unity which is Christ’s will for his Church but which is frustrated by incompatibility of order – whether that incompatibility is caused by disagreement over gender or episcopal ordering.

 

Advantages of SS include the flexibility of arrangements – whereby, with necessary safeguards, parishes can move in and out of such societies and diocesan bishops – for evangelistic, cultural or pastoral reasons – can request the help of a particular society for a particular parish for a particular period of time.  Here, I think, we have learned a great deal from the period 1994 to the present.  There are many parishes, whether evangelical or catholic, where a congregational vote on the issues of the day would have caused – would cause – disintegration of flourishing communities.  SSC priests and ministers from the Reform tradition have effectively ministered in some of these parishes and this would need to continue to happen.

 

Another advantage of SS is that it could be designed to permit ecumenical pilgrimage.  If it is the Lord’s will that Anglicans and Roman Catholics should continue to work for unity, it may be the Lord’s will that the SSC be a bridgehead – or forward party – for such a project.  Such has been the dream of papalists – and not only papalists.  Similarly, one can imagine the Church Society, say, becoming freer for conducting pan-protestant alliances of one kind or another.  There would be conversations between Calvinists and Arminians, Presbyterians and Episcopalians, that some of us could only guess at.  A Church of England embracing SS must be prepared to see such societies making their own way, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the search for unity.  Equally there would be ‘societies’ – Baptist, Pentecostalist, Reformed, Salvationist – that might be heading towards a deeper relationship, and eventually integration with, Anglicans.  Porousness of borders and lightness of structure would be the watchword.

 

Some Tentative Conclusions

 

A tempting conclusion is that, however ingenious any of these solutions, none of them is a price worth paying for women bishops.  It would be far easier to say, it could be argued, that each of the solutions is far more disintegrative than the admission of women to the episcopate would be integrative.  And yet, by permitting in the early 1990s those who did not accept women’s ordination to remain within the Church and promising them an honoured place and embracing a doctrine of reception which was little short of eschatological, the Church of England has generated a coherent – if sometimes noisy – minority with a life of its own.  Hindsight would suggest that a regional pattern of extended episcopal care – analogous to Archbishop Habgood’s view that in every deanery there should be a church where the ordained ministers were in principle male – might have served us better than the PEV model.  (Indeed a favourite conspiracy theory is that, by opting for provincial provision, diocesans were hoping to contain – and instead radicalised – dissent.)  Hindsight also would suggest that the view of Archbishop Habgood’s successor – David Hope – was no less wise: that the Church of England should have begun the ordination of women project by agreeing whether to admit women to the episcopate.  The mistake the enthusiasts for women’s ordination appear to have made was to regard opposition as a short-term problem.

 

It will be noticed that not all of the Rochester Commission’s own options have been taken up here.  The introduction of women only as suffragans serves only to institutionalise discrimination: it would be hard to construct an ecclesiological argument that defended such discrimination and no easier to construct an ecclesiology that allowed an attenuated female episcopate and traditionalists to co-exist in the same communion.  Similarly the idea of ‘a code of practice’, much trumpeted, is discounted.  For one thing, there has been too much chicanery and sleight of hand over the working of Resolutions A and B in the last decade – such at least is the perception – for there to be enough trust to work a code of practice, however firmly entrenched in English Law.  For another, a code of practice – rather like Resolutions A and B – is an essentially NIMBY[3] device and the back yard is not where good Catholic ecclesiology is practised.  Resolutions A and B (without so-called ‘C’) really make sense only where ‘the local church’ is defined as the local congregation, which is not the fundamental unit of Catholic ecclesiology.

 

Each of the solutions suggested in this paper has advantages and drawbacks.

Each could be written off as a ‘Gruyère cheese’ arrangement, an attack on territoriality.    Territoriality is an important – and incarnational – principle in the life of a national church.  There is something attractive about the notion that every man, woman and child lives in a parish which is part of a diocese.  None of the solutions in themselves is an attack on territoriality: so-called ‘non-geographical dioceses’ would be, in fact, geographically-overlapping jurisdictions.  Such is the reality of urban life – where people live, work, take their leisure, receive education and do their shopping over a very wide area indeed – that territoriality means little more than that everybody is on someone’s books.  The parish priest will find that his or her congregation and electoral roll comprises people from a number of parishes and some parish priests have congregations and electoral rolls comprising people almost entirely from outside the parish.  That is as true of electic charismatic churches as it is of inner city churches where the population is mainly of another faith.  Celebrant-based marriages and crematorium-based funerals have not weakened the sense that people everywhere have a parson to care for them but the likelihood has increased that the ministry given and received will not be local to where they live.

 

It is not only the overlapping ministries and jurisdictions of different Anglican parishes which complicate territoriality.  There are also the overlapping ministries and jurisdictions of different ecclesial bodies.  Few would see the ecumenical future as a collapsing of jurisdictions into the jurisdiction of the Established Church.  Thus it would be harmless – and ecumenically prophetic – for NP/HPS/SS parishes to operate as Church of England parishes and for it to be understood that each has a secondary brief for those who live outside them but relatively near to them.  (Such is the secondary brief which all parishes already have for congregational and electoral roll members who live outside the parish).  Similarly, parishes of the deanery in which there are NP/HPS/SS parishes, as well as maintaining excellent relationships and a high degree of mutual support of and fellowship with such parishes, would have an secondary brief for those who live in NP/HPS/SS parishes but dissent from their expression of the Faith.  (No change there from the way churchmanships complement and interact).

 

Of the three solutions, two – NP and HPS – are relatively gentle evolutions of the status quo.   Very little would in fact change.  NP would be ecclesiologically and theoretically more adventurous but would be a clear development of the semi-detached position we have gradually arrived at.  HPS, tying the new local churches into the existing synodical structure, would seem more cautious but might be more radical in feel, not least in the introduction of a new discrete conservative group into General Synod.   SS would need very careful exploration: it would be a new departure for the Church of England and might feel a little bit as if private patronage were growing like Topsy.  But, carefully explored and set up, it could be the most ecumenically creative of all the models, allowing a bit of extra space even on such issues as the Windsor Report was designed to address as the sense of being bound together as ‘communion’ shifted a little towards a looser kind of fellowship.

 

Choosing between the models is not easy.  NP would be good if it were the rebuilding of the bridge between Canterbury and Rome and bad if it were a way of moving into Continuing Anglicanism.  HPS would be good if it allowed the Church of England to rediscover its momentum and underlying unity, releasing for mission and ministry energy presently sapped by ecclesiastical politicking.  It would be bad if the necessary distances and fences which enable neighbours to live at peace were not properly in place.  SS would be good if it became a creative ecumenical model, a development of the riches of churchmanship and complementary traditions.  It would be bad if it were yet another kind of fissiparousness where notions of underlying unity were largely bureaucratic and spiritually fictitious.

Dry Sandford 17.02.05

[1] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church ‘diocese’ – from which the material in the remainder of the paragraph is distilled.

[2] New Directions

[3] NIMBY = ‘not in my back yard’

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